driver distraction

Though US traffic facilities are declining, the administration worries driver distraction may reverse that trend (Photo: NHTSA)

The US administration is stepping up the pressure on carmakers to make in-vehicle electronic devices less distracting to drivers.

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Thursday issued a series of proposed voluntary guidelines for in-car communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices.

The guidelines, which were issued by the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured. It applies to devices that require visual or manual operation by drivers.

Though the number of people dying in traffic accidents on US roads actually dropped 1.6 pc in the first nine months of 2011 to 24,050 persons, the administration believes the proliferation of in-car electronic devices and their controls pose serious risks.

"Deadly habit"

"Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America's roadways ”“ that's why I've made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel," LaHood said in a statement. "These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages."

US President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2013 federal budgetincludes 330 million dlrs for distracted driving programs over the next year six years.

FY 2013 budget request, which includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action.

In a first phase, the guidelines focus on functions and systems that aren't directly safety-related.

Guidelines

David Strickland, the NHTSA administrator, said: "The guidelines we're proposing would offer real-world guidance to automakers to help them develop electronic devices that provide features consumers want””without disrupting a driver's attention or sacrificing safety."

The proposed Phase I distraction guidelines include recommendations to:

  •  Reduce complexity and task length required by the device
  •  Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle)
  •  Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds in duration
  •  Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver's field of view;
  •  Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.
In addition, the guidelines recommend disabling a number of functions while driving. These include:
  • Visual-manual internet browsing
  • Visual-manual social media browsing
  • Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address
  • Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing
  • Displaying to the driver more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.
For a second phase, the NHTSA is considering guidelines for aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices that can be used in cars.

And in a third phase, guidelines may be developed for voice-activated controls.

A copy of the NHTSA's distracted-driving guidelines can be viewed at http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/rulemaking/pdf/Distraction_NPFG-02162012.pdf

-By Arjen Bongard